15 Unique Ideas for Creating a Healing Home for Anxious or Aging Dogs
Aging, anxious or traumatized (rescue) dogs have unique physical and emotional needs. Comfort and support your dog with 15 easy ideas for your home. These include raised dog dishes, portable steps, orthopedic beds, thunder vests, and healing dog dens equipped with nature sounds, DogTV, and comforting essential oils and crystals.
Your Dog’s Needs Change
We love our dogs so much and want to make their lives as happy and comfortable as possible, right? When you were preparing to bring home your little fur soul, what did you buy? Like us, you probably bought soft toys, chew bones, blankets, food and water bowls and the usual leashes, collars and grooming supplies. Amazing!
As puppies mature into senior dogs though, their needs change. Anxious or traumatized dogs also have special needs that must be addressed for them to feel safe and to heal.
Over the past 25 years, we’ve adapted our home spaces to support the quality of life of our beloved dogs. Whether your dog is aging, anxious, ill, or recovering from trauma, our experienced pet care specialists at Healing Fur Souls are here to share 15 unique ideas to make your home more comfortable for your beloved fur baby.
Aging Dogs Have Unique Needs
As our beautiful senior dogs begin to age, their needs change:
- Arthritis makes joints stiff and sore so that’s it’s harder to climb stairs and jump on and off beds and sofas. They’re also more prone to muscle and joint injuries.
- Dogs lose muscle mass so hips and elbows become more boney and need soft, supportive beds
- Hearing loss can make vibrations from thunderstorms more frightening
- Dogs can become less tolerant to stress from street noise and busy, active families and other pets
- Large dogs can have difficulty eating from dishes on the floor
- Older dogs may need to go outside more often when they have less control over bladder or bowels
- Senior dogs may be more irritable or uncomfortable and seek to be alone
- Older dogs can become confused
Rescue Dogs Have Special Needs
Have you rescued a dog with a trauma history? You’re amazing! Many rescues have experienced trauma or have lived in chronic fear. Stress and an overreactive nervous system can lead to responsive behaviors. These sensitive fur souls need a healing space that reduces stress, minimizes triggers and comforts all their senses. It’s vital that anxious or rescue dogs have their own area that is safe, undisturbed and has access to calming toys, scents and sounds.
Anxious Dogs Need to Feel Safe
Do you have an anxious dog? Perhaps your dog has developed separation anxiety or is picking up on the anxiety of people in the household. Like us, anxious dogs need to feel safe, calm and be able to heal their nervous system so they learn to self-regulate their anxiety. In addition to positive training, and healing foods and herbs (like lavender and CBD), a safe healing space is essential.
How to Create a Healing Home for Anxious Dogs
Our natural dog care specialists have spent decades caring for ill, aging, anxious and traumatized dogs. We’ve learned how to adapt our homes around our dog’s needs and want to share our favorite tips with you.
Our healing home hacks for dogs are adaptable to all sizes, ages and health conditions. Here are our top 15 tips:
1. Use elevated dog bowls to reduce neck and back strain and help dogs swallow more comfortably. Conventional floor-level dishes force taller dogs to swallow against gravity, creating a risk for choking.
2. Place non-skid rugs on floors and stairs for dogs with unstable or sore joints. This helps their paws grip the floor surface so they put less strain on joints. Don’t forget to keep toenails trimmed for the most stable grip.
3. Build an under-the-stairs dog den. DIY pet parents can have fun making a doggy den under the stairs for a safe, calming retreat. Build a decorative door, instal soft lighting, a comfortable bed and even sound proofing for traumatized, rescue dogs or those sensitive to loud noises/busy children or other pets. Dogs can remain in the centre of the household (important for hyper-vigilant trauma survivors) while having a safe, private hang-out. Your dog will love this!
5.Place hooks at the top and bottom of stairs to hang lift harnesses. Lift harnesses or towels help larger, old or arthritic dogs get up and down steps by supporting their body weight.
6.Build or purchase night stands/tables for smaller dogs, that have an open bottom for your dog to curl up in. She can still sleep near you without having to jump and down from your bed.
7.Create a low drawer in your kitchen to hold your small dog’s food dishes. Pull out to feed, and push back to keep dishes out of the way. Make it a family project by getting kids to decorate the drawer with your dog’s paw prints (cut outs or paint). We use one dish for pure filtered water and the other for cooled, diluted herbal teas (like organic chamomile for anxious dogs).
8.Install a dog door for independent access to the outdoors. It’s never too late for a doggy door! This is a great idea for senior dogs with bladder or bowel issues, or dogs that love outdoor stimulation. Our anxious dog used to bark every few minutes to go out, then in, then out – this solved his needs!
9.Make your outdoor spaces fragrant, safe and fun. Nature is healing, so make your dog’s outdoor space a peaceful refuge. Plant dog-safe healing herbs like lavender (lavender releases its calming scent when dogs brush up against it); make winding mulch paths to encourage short walks and keep paws soft and safe; add bird baths and feeders for interest/stimulation. Keep fresh water outdoors and ensure your dog always has protection from the weather.
10.Cut peek-a-boo holes in fences and install acrylic clear domes to allow neighbouring dogs to go nose-to-nose safely. This can reduce nervous and territorial behaviors common in rescue dogs plus give your dog access to safe socializing. It’s excellent stimulation for older or confused dogs that may need to see what’s on the other side of the fence.
11.Add a few hooks in your walk-in closet or mudroom to hang bandanas and dog clothes that match your daily outfit. It’s a way to engage your dog and make you smile (dogs pick up on our moods and a little fun can help with anxiety and distract from pain). Keep your leashes and harnesses here too. If you have a reactive dog, consider a special harness that alerts others that she is nervous.
12.Designate a drawer in your mud room/laundry room for doggy care. Keeping supplies nearby means less walking on sore joints and helps cognitively impaired dogs to remember what this room is for. Include items you’d want to grab quickly e.g. towels, flea and tick essential oil spray, ultrasonic tick prevention tool, skunk shampoo, first aid products, doggy diapers. It should also include grooming products and outdoor clothing (like dog boots/coats). LINK ULTRASONIC TICK PREENTION TOOL TO TICKLESS
13.Install an accessible dog bath/shower in your mud room/laundry room with a spray handle for easy clean-ups. Perfect for senior dogs with continence issues (or high prey dogs that get a little too close to skunks). Polished concrete floors are easy to keep clean. Make sure you have plenty of skin-safe shampoos for older dogs with thinning, dry skin.
14.Use essential oils wisely. Pure essential oils have healing properties that can reduce a dog’s pain, inflammation and anxiety. Try our favorite blend of 1-2 drops each of lavender and rosemary in a diffuser. Keep the diffuser in an open area where your dog can choose to approach (and leave) it. Never use synthetic fragrances and never put a diffuser in a room where your dog can’t leave. If you use essential oils as a spray, always dilute them and spray them on a bandana first to see how your dog reacts.
15.Create a healing dog den in your dog’s favorite room. Include their favorite items including:
- An orthopaedic dog bed to cushion and support sore or boney joints. Aging dogs get cold easily, so place it in a sunny spot and make sure there are warm blankets.
- Place a suction cup bird feeder on the window so older or less mobile dogs can watch their feathered friends. This provides much-needed stimulation and can be quite helpful for dogs with poor mobility or anxiety. If your dog has a high prey drive though, she may find it stressful to be unable to chase (although in our experience, we have found it desensitizes high prey dogs so they actually become less interested in chasing when they’re outdoors).
- Get a small TV and subscribe to DogTV. DogTV is scientifically developed to engage dogs with scenes that alternatively relax and stimulate a dog’s senses. It’s especially helpful for dogs with separation anxiety and those who need a bit of stimulation. It’s perfect for dogs recovering from surgery or convalescing. Our dogs really engage in DogTV and can’t get enough of it!
- Put a salt lamp in the room. Salt lamps are not just soothing to look at, they provide a peaceful night light for dogs with declining eyesight or confusion. They may help neutralize electromagnetic radiation, improve air quality and breathing by trapping contaminated air particles. Himalayan salt lamps emit negative ions for a refreshing feeling that resembles being in nature.
- Place a salt lamp out of reach of your dog to prevent her from licking it
- Use an incandescent light bulb to minimize blue light (from LED bulbs) that can disrupt sleep.
- Bring nature indoors. Make your dog feel like he’s in the forest. Fill your dog’s healing den with live non-toxic potted plants, indoor trees and herbs like lavendar, rosemary and sage. One of our readers even built an indoor sandbox complete with dirt and decorative grasses so she and her dog could experience healthy “grounding” together.
- Create a Calming Kit for rescue dogs, those with anxiety or a trauma history or for any dogs that have responsive behaviors. Keep these items together in a basket for quick access:
- a thunder vest for dogs that are afraid of fireworks/loud noises
- soft blankets
- non-destructible toys or bones
- homemade La La Lavender cookies (see our homemade recipe here)
- CBD (cannabidiol) for anxiety, pain and inflammation
- Lavender essential oil. We recommend placing a few drops on a blanket or towel and spreading it on the floor. Let your dog approach it on her own. Don’t put it in a crate where your dog can’t choose to leave.
- organic chamomile tea (diluted, cooled chamomile tea is a game changer for anxious dogs. Keep a bowl of cooled, diluted chamomile tea in a bowl (separate from pure water) that your dog can access throughout the day. It’s self-medicating!
- Place a wireless speaker in your dog’s space to stream calming music. We recommend classical music or nature sounds at a low volume.
- Consider using healing crystals. Crystals have been used for millennia to emit subtle healing energy. At Healing Fur Souls, we use crystals like amethyst, quartz, carnelian, black tourmaline and garnet to help anxiety, trauma, graceful aging, pain, EMF (electromagnetic frequency) protection and to encourage trust and bonding. Keep crystals out of reach of curious dogs. Learn more about the healing benefits of crystals for your dog here.
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